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Editorial: Bizarre wind farm ban another reason for real drilling moratorium

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A speed boat passes by offshore windmills in the North Sea near Esbjerg, Denmark. The president's temporary moratorium on drilling off the coasts of Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina also bans energy leasing for wind turbines. (AP Photo/Heribert Proepper)

Wind energy has never been seen as a big thing — or even a sure thing — for South Carolina. It’s not as cheap as solar energy, the turbines can be loud and ugly, the spinning blades can endanger birds, and the military worries that offshore wind farms could impact waters where it conducts training.

But a General Electric facility in Greenville engineers turbines for onshore farms. The Clemson University center in North Charleston tests prototypes for wear and tear. Some areas off the northern half of the state's coast have been flagged for future wind farms, though the federal government hasn’t started leasing waters yet. And like solar, wind is energy that doesn’t pollute or have the potential for devastating disasters. Unless the climate changes in ways that would probably kill off human life anyway, there’s an unlimited supply.

So it was disappointing to learn that President Donald Trump’s temporary moratorium on oil exploration and drilling off South Carolina’s coast also bans new offshore leases for wind farms. As The Post and Courier’s Chloe Johnson reports, the U.S. Bureau of Ocean and Energy Management, which hands out leases for offshore drilling as well as wind farms, says the president’s 10-year moratorium on “exploration, development or production” of energy means all kinds of energy.

It was also surprising. The environmental and economic concerns that led Charleston and other coastal communities to fight offshore drilling — the damage seismic testing does to ocean life and the environmental and economic threat that spills pose to both ocean life and tourism, our most important industry — simply don’t apply to wind energy.

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This was such a bizarre coupling of unrelated ideas that it’s hard to see it as anything other than an extension of the president’s personal disdain for wind energy, as a real estate developer who has fought wind farms he contended would lower his property values and pose an eyesore to his golf clubs.

Still, if we had to accept a ban on offshore wind farms in order to protect our oceans and beaches from offshore exploration and drilling, we’d take it in a heartbeat. The essential art of legislative compromise, after all, sometimes produces bizarre couplings.

But this moratorium wasn’t the result of compromise. It was, like all executive orders, the decision of one individual. And as such, it’s yet another reason that while we’re glad to have a temporary moratorium on oil exploration and drilling, we can’t settle for that.

U.S. Sens. Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott need to work with other coastal senators — and senators from inland states who care about our environment and our economy — to break past the Mitch McConnell blockade and either approve the House-passed ban or else amend it to their liking. Whatever the precise details, we need protections for our oceans and beaches written into federal law, as such things should be, where a current or future president can’t replace them on a whim.

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